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The lizard lesbian paradigm – Censoring regional media for an international audience

May 27, 2016

Some time ago, the BBC received criticism from British equality activists for taking a lesbian kiss out of an episode of Doctor Who that aired in Asia.

Respected gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said:

“The BBC should not bow to censorship demands from other countries. If these countries are bigoted and are not willing to show same-sex love, they have no right to demand that the BBC conforms to their standards of prejudice.”

While I appreciate the feeling behind the sentiment, I am not sure Mr Tatchell had fully acknowledged the potential implications of his proposed action. The BBC is an internationally well-regarded organisation whose power to change the world into a more fair-minded place relies on its being respected equally in all countries. Therefore, they attempt to be even-handed and where appropriate, culturally sensitive.

Failure to do so could lead to the channel being banned in intensely anti-homosexual countries, or losing favour in marginally anti-homosexual ones. This would be no improvement on a world whose comparatively fast and messy wake-up call is a direct result of becoming a global-local community, whereby every country has direct access to the media and culture of every other.

The BBC puts a specific set of shows directly to broadcast. This makes it fundamentally different to YouTube and other streaming sites, where the user chooses (to some extent) what they will watch. Selection is a form of self-restriction and censorship; if you don’t want to see the lesbian kiss, it is easy to avoid, as long as you can freely select it or not. Broadcast’s culture involves transmitting the Zeitgeist directly, and when broadcast companies are deemed to fail in that, they are roundly lambasted.

In the internet age, everyone would have known that, in the UK, there was a “lesbian” kiss between a human and a lizard woman (not sure if that counts, perhaps it’s the miscegenation that is causing the problem). If anyone wanted to see the original, out of fascination for how other cultures do things, they could do so quite easily by going online.

After all, it is not as if this kind of censorship is anything new. When I was growing up, more than one Pokemon episode or scene was banned from countries outside of Japan, including America – and ergo, Britain, which did not conduct its own English language dub but rather imported the American one. What did America censor in the 90s and new millennium? A scene where a man mysteriously grew a pair of big bouncing breasts and entered a swimsuit contest.

I’m sure the American company felt that it was too weird for their audience, plus leaning over into soft hentai territory – not suitable for children. It is not particularly a feature of Japan to object to foreign country censorship of its material, but if it was, what might this hypothetically ultra-liberal Japan have said about America? That it was anti-trans, perhaps, or that it was hiding bodies and sexuality from children to the detriment of their personal growth; or simply that the prudish West was overreacting to a simple cartoon.

Everyone does censorship for various reasons, some better, and some worse. What we must recognise is that it is somewhat hypocritical to puff and blow about regressive attitudes that were a feature of one’s own country only a couple of decades ago. In the 90s, the BBC would have had some trepidation about airing a lesbian kiss on prime time children’s TV, knowing that – even in its native Britain – it would receive a great number of shocked letters from the conservative public. Every country moves at its own speed for its own reasons. The regional BBC ignores the attitude of Middle-Britain at its peril; the international BBC ignores the commonly-held viewpoints of its foreign host at its peril.

It’s misled to think that We, The Enlightened have a duty to educate these foreigners on their wrongful attitudes. This process is a sort of new age imperialism. When the British Empire pushed its way into India and other counties, it was obsessed with distancing itself from the barbarous indigenous peoples, and keeping hold of their own superior, civilised White ideals. They would often try to convince “the natives” that the White way was the correct way; this included missionaries forcing Christianity down the throats of other cultures, convinced that to not be Christian was a grievous error of judgement.

I think that Tatchell is right about gay rights in general, so I do not consider his comments to be in the same league as that sort of aggressive cultural arrogance. But I do think that we should be wary of trying to change other countries to our way of thinking via the attitude: “We’re obviously right, let’s break into their media and show them how right we are.”

Each country has to figure it out for themselves; rights grow organically, not by force, or by this artificial insemination approach. No one appreciates officious foreign influence. Every country will address equality rights in its own way, and by this process will build a stable, permanent moral system that its citizens value all the more for the fact that it was constructed by them, rather than imposed upon them from outside.

If we wish to quicken this process, we can lead by example, using the internet to its best advantage; to showcase our culture and to expose injustice, so that people may make their own judgements in their own time and in their own way. Appearing to kick-box down the doors of another country only leads to increased bad feeling between distinctly different cultures.

We must credit foreign states with the intelligence to observe the world for themselves – to see the advantage of newer systems compared to older ones. In foreign policy, meddling with the operation of other countries “for their own good” can lead to disaster; international media and activists must pay attention to this as well, using appropriately tentative and subtle techniques to foster social change, instead of heavy-handed, pan-cultural approaches that alienate other peoples who do not have the cultural background to instantly understand our point of view.


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